Robert E. Smith
|This biographical article does not cite any sources. (December 2009)|
LtCol Robert Edward Smith (December 3, 1918 – October 29, 2004) was an American pilot who flew in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, serving in the Army Air Corps, the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force during his career.
Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Washington, DC; in 1938 he entered The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1941, on the cusp of the United States entering into war, Smith dropped out of school and joined the US Army Air Corps but washed out of flight school, he moved to Canada and attempted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force but was eventually recruited into the "Eagle Squadron", a unit of the Royal Air Force in Britain consisting of American volunteers.
In 1942, a telegram was sent home to his family in Norfolk, Virginia informing them that Smith was shot down over France and was missing, presumed to be killed in action. In fact, while flying with 133 Eagle Squadron, Smith ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch his plane following a bomber escort mission gone awry. In August, 1942 the 3 Eagle Squadrons were absorbed into the newly organized 4th Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps, on 26 September 1942, the squadron was blown several hundred miles off course and was unable to return to their bases in England. Of the twelve pilots on the mission, nine were killed, one was taken prisoner, one managed to crash landed in England and Smith bailed out over France. Smith evaded capture for four months in enemy territory (in spite of being unable to speak German or French). Using the railways and various disguises, Smith worked his way toward neutral territory. In the dead of winter, he crossed the Pyrenees, only to be captured and tortured in a Spanish prison before being released. His adventures are chronicled in Aircraft Down! Evading Capture in WWII Europe by Philip D. Caine. Smith eventually completed his degree at Colorado College and earned an M.S. from Georgia Tech. He flew 117 missions as a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War and also flew combat sorties in Vietnam; he retired from the US Air Force in 1970. Smith's awards include:
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Bronze Star
- Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster
- Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters